EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has gone from Dwight Howard at center to Chris Kaman, from publicly criticizing Pau Gasol to a hard sell on Gasol as a reason for hope, and from a 2012-13 of immense expectations to a follow-up where just making the playoffs could make this season a success.
His world has not stopped spinning since getting the job 10 1/2 months ago. D’Antoni is willing to be honest in the assessment that the Lakers would be better off if Howard had re-signed, a sentiment a lot of scorned Lakers backers dismiss.
With the Los Angeles portion of the Dwightmare closed and D’Antoni in his first full season as coach, he looked back in an NBA.com interview at the 2012-13 with the perspective of time and where it has left the Lakers in 2013-14.
Question: How much of (praising Gasol) is propping him up, giving him that encouragement, and how much do you really believe this team is better with Pau than it would have been with Dwight?
Answer: I think those are two different points. When you say he’s one of the best skilled big men in the league, that’s not propping him up. That’s the truth. If the franchise had made a decision last year to kind of go another direction because of youth then you had to play around that. That was the direction it was going. But if you tell me right now who’d you rather post up, you want to post up Pau or you want to post up Dwight Howard and give him the ball? No (question). [Indicating Gasol] But if you want to re-sign somebody, who do you want? That’s where the problem was. It was clear who was the best post man. It’s nothing against Dwight. That’s the reality.
Q: But is this team better off if it had Dwight now or with Pau there?
A: We’ll see, We’ll see. I don’t want to go out that far because obviously there’s an answer and I don’t want to offend anybody. I love Pau’s game. I think Pau’s won two championships and I think Pau’s been very instrumental. Like Lamar Odom at the four and Pau at the five, and now you’re back there. It kind of speaks for itself.
Q: How glad are people — you, maybe players in the locker room — to just be done with all the craziness and say, ‘We don’t have to do that for another four or five years?’
A: You’re done with the uncertainty. You’re done with ‘Does he want to be here or not? Do you have to appease him because then you’ll lose him?’ You’re done with that. So now you can just — you know what, we’re going to try this.
Q: In other words, if he had been back ….
A: Then we’d have been fine too.
Q: There wouldn’t have been craziness?
A: No. It would have been different. That was just a weird year that everybody kind of had to modify different things or muffle stuff or not say something.
Q: How much did you have to bite your tongue last year?
A: You have to do it every year, first of all. Every team.
Q: It wasn’t a situation because the guy was about to become a free agent?
A: Oh, yeah. Sure. That all plays into it. It all plays everywhere. But, again, to be fair, he was hurt half the year. You’ve got to be fair to him. You’ve got to be fair to the franchise. That’s just the way the situation was. We didn’t come through it total. At the end of the day, I understand there was a rough period, we were 28-12 the last 40 games. We were the third-best record with Steve Nash going down, Pau going down, Dwight going down, Metta (World Peace) going down. And we had the third-best record in the league the last 40 games. That’s half the season. We bombed out in the playoffs because we lost everybody. You’ve got to give the guys their credit. They got us to the playoffs in a tough Western Conference. They went 7-1 in April when it counted. There was some good stuff. But at the same time, it was a weird year. Different. Not to be repeated too many times.
Q: Is there any part of you that looks back and says you went too far out of your way to appease him?
A: (Pause) Not really. It wasn’t that. You’re just trying to find the balance and stuff. [Trying to find a balance of] “OK, he needs a touch here, he needs a touch there.” It’s never pure. I think it was fine.
Q: Did Dwight bring on a lot of the craziness on himself?
A: No. I just think it was the situation. Dwight, he came to every practice. He worked hard every day. What happened was, you’re hurt, you start to lose, it starts to cave in on us, and you lash out sometimes in different ways. But their character, they hung in there, did not break completely apart and, like I said, the last 40 games went 28-12.
Q: Do you believe he was ever 100 percent committed to being here?
A: I think so. He was committed to making us win as much as we could.
Q: You said you had to bite your tongue a little bit. What can you say now that you couldn’t say last season?
A: I wouldn’t say it. He’s one of the best players in the league. And we had another guy that’s one of the best players in the league, and it was hard to find an even footing. There’s nothing that I’m biting my tongue about. It’s just too bad we couldn’t quite all get together on the same page. There’s so many factors. There’s not just one thing. It’s not really fair to anybody to say, ‘It’s this guy. It’s that guy.’ It’s a combination of guys, a combination of stuff, and that’s how it is always. It’s never one guy’s fault.
Q: When it came out from his camp, whether it was him directly or somebody close to him, that he was having problems with the offense and didn’t like what his role was, how much did that bother you?
A: None. I hated it in a sense. I mean, it bothered you because you don’t want to be a reason for him not to come back. But at the same time, so he chooses to go to a team that has the same offense that we have? C’mon. OK. I don’t know. Actually, they have our offense on steroids. They were doing it the right way. We weren’t. I don’t know how much that played into that, but all kinds of stuff’s going to come out from different parts. I’ve been around players and coaches and I’ve probably said 1,000 things. I’ve said 100 here, one here, over there, I’m going north, I’m going south, east. You never get it straight.
Q: You’re probably aware that at some point something else is going to come out that he’s going to say.
A: Something will probably come out that I say. It’s just because we have to talk a lot, and some night you’ll say something or somebody will construe it a little different. Then by the time it gets reported to him, it’ll be not quite the way it was said, and vice versa. It’ll be, “I didn’t quite mean it that way. Now, it looks bad.” The guy tried to do everything he could to make us win and I tried to do everything I could to make us win. It just didn’t work out last year.”
Q: Do you feel this team is better with this team than if Dwight had been here?
A: I think if Dwight were here it would have made us better. Yeah, I think it would. Yeah. He impacts the game, there’s no doubt about it.